The sun sets over the western group of temples casting an orange glow-path on the lake beside them. Night sets in with bats in tight groups darkening the sky as they head out for an evening hunt, followed by a chirping cricket chorus. Fires light the road’s edge and everything seems more calm as tourists gather in rooftop restaurants and order special thali (an Indian set meal with a little of this and that) and banana lassis. Deep breathing. Less hassles. Peace and quiet. Khajuraho was a relaxing place for a few days’ rest.
A bit off the primary tourist route, Khajuraho is less crowded and its residents are not yet fully jaded by tourism. It seems to be on its way though, especially with increased accessibility by train. We arrived on an overnight from Varanasi in a train car with far more tourists than Indian passengers. Previously, we’d never seen more than two or three other tourists in the same carriage. Our bunkmates (coincidentally, since I’ve lived in both places) included a guy from Venezuela and another from Japan, as well as an Indian chap from Mumbai, heading to Khajuraho for work. He gave us some good insights on Varanasi, which we’d just left, and some local perspective. He was also kind enough to give us a ride into town when we arrived. It was an evening of good conversation, with a diversity of opinions and outlooks.
Set in the countryside of Madhya Pradesh, Khajuraho was a cultural capital, so there are many temples (25 or so of the original 80), but no forts. The temples of Khajuraho are generally divided into three groups: Western, Eastern and Southern, with the Eastern group mainly consisting of Jain temples. The temples are fine architectural examples, but are best known for their carvings and sculpture of erotic or sexual scenes. These pieces are not found inside the temples, nor are they everywhere, but appear in strips or bands on some inner and outer walls. Other art shows more mundane scenes of daily life or apsaras (heavenly nymphs) doing what they do. The temples were built from 950 to 1150 AD. The amount of work and skill necessary to create these structures and their art is truly amazing. Of the western group, our favorite was Chitragupta Temple, dedicated to the Sun God (Surya Dev). It faces east toward the rising sun. The image of the deity in the inner sanctum is shown driving horse-drawn chariot. The inside spaces of all the temples are cool and dark, most with a platform at the entrance, and the deity in a small chamber toward the back. The hallways on the sides are thickly carved, and interior ceilings are works of art on their own. The Jain temples of the Eastern group, including the imposing Parsvanath temple, have a different look and feel. From architectural point of view the Parsvanath, the Adinath and the Shantinath temples are most important here and serve as unique examples of religious harmony. The main temple has photos of major Jain monuments in the halls around an open courtyard.
We explored alone, renting bikes one day, though guides were always available. One young boy of 11 or 12 was proficient enough in Spanish to jump on the back of a bicycle rented by a Venezuelan guy we’d shared the overnight train with for a day-tour. His English was even better, and all learned from tourists. Kids in the old village, away from the tourist section were anxious to practice English as well, saying their school was only in Hindi. The level of foreign language skills in a town with literacy rates of around 53% is astounding. With the airport in place, national and international 5-star hotels on the outskirts of town, and prime placement in each new edition of Lonely Planet, this little town is already firmly on the map. Hopefully they will be able to retain their charm and good humor, benefiting from the positive impacts of tourism and rejecting the negative.
Photos from Khajuraho can be viewed HERE.